Kells derives from the Irish Ceanannus Mór, meaning ‘great residence’. Long before the coming of Christianity, Kells was a royal residence associated with the legendary Conn Céadchatach (Conn of the Hundred Battles) and Cormac mac Airt, both of whom were said to have dwellings here.
Conn of the Hundred Battles was, according to medieval Irish legend and historical tradition, a High King of Ireland, and the ancestor of the Connachta, and, through his descendant Niall of the Nine Hostages, the Uí Néill dynasties, which dominated Ireland in the early middle ages, and their descendants. Cormac mac Airt (son of Art), also known as Cormac ua Cuinn (grandson of Conn) or Cormac Ulfada (long beard), was, according to medieval Irish legend and historical tradition, a High King of Ireland. He is probably the most famous of the ancient High Kings, and may have been an authentic historical figure, although many legends have attached themselves to him, and his reign is variously dated as early as the 2nd century and as late as the 4th. He is said to have ruled from Tara, the seat of the High Kings of Ireland, for forty years, and under his rule Tara flourished. He was famous for his wise, true, and generous judgments.
The Annals of the Four Masters claim that from Tara, the great heart and centre of the Irish Kingdom, five great roads radiated to the various parts of the country. The Slige Dala, one of these roads, began in Kells, and passed through Tara and headed south east towards Carrick-on-Suir.
The most familiar role played by the Hill of Tara in Irish history is as the seat of the kings of Ireland until the 12th century.
Many legends surround both Tara and Kells, but sufficient to say, it was of importance enough to be given to Columcille in the 6th century by the then High King, Diarmuid MacCarroll, in recompense for some “grevious wrong”, and it was then that Kells took on the mantle of its monastic phase.